• Matthew Brooks

It's all Rock and Roll

At the end of 2018 I had the pleasure of shooting a band called Elphies Kingdom. I wanted to share the experience and provide some basic tips when working with clients and shooting a bigger location shoot.

I was contacted by the lead singer Sam through Instagram. Sam is already one of my followers and said she liked my work and asked about hiring me to shoot some promotional stuff for the band as they were rebranding and adding an additional member to the group.

Tip 1: GETTING LEADS THROUGH SOCIAL MEDIA. Instagram and other social media platforms are a great way to show off your work. Don't post every photo you ever take, only post your best work. Everybody takes bad photos just don't show those. If people like your work enough they may well inquire about hiring you.

They wanted to do the shoot at Margam Park with the possibility of using the castle, which gave me some ideas from the get go. Initially I did some research on basic group photos and band photography. Positioning and just forming some basic ideas. The first ideas that I had were for a grand cinematic shot which would take inspiration from Annie Leibowitz as she is the pinnacle of grand cinematic shots.

Tip 2: DO YOUR RESEARCH. If you have an idea, you have to do research to round out that idea as much as you can. Referencing photos is fine to help you create your own ideas, just don't go copying anybody's work exactly.

I decided that seeing the band play at a gig was a good idea to help me get a feel of what they were about musically as that may help with more ideas. Also before the gig they wanted to run through some ideas that they had and to hear some of the stuff that I had come up with. Photography after all is a collaborative thing between the photographer and the subject. If either is not engaged then you get no end product. We all chatted, shared ideas, joked around and stayed for the whole gig. It was a great ice breaker to get to know the band a little before the day of the shoot. Their gig was great fun and got a sense of how they interact with their fans while playing.

Tip 3: MEET THE CLIENT BEFOREHAND. Get to know them a little to ease any nerves or get an understanding of what they want or expect as a client. Also to set realistic expectations of what will happen on the day and will and won't be feasible. Everyone has to be happy with the end results.

The band managed to book a date with Margam Park for when they were able to accommodate our shooting ideas. We were able to shoot in the castle which worked out excellently for my Annie Leibowitz inspired shots. I went to Margam Park to check out the location as I have never been inside the castle. I needed to check the ambient light levels and whether I would need to use flash in all the shots or whether in some it would have been possible to just use natural light, as I was aware it could have been dark inside the castle. I went there the day before which was a Saturday so it gave me an idea of how many other visitors would be around walking in and out of the castle. Also I needed to check some of the other locations that we had previously discussed in the meet up and some areas that I knew of in the park from my previous visits.

Tip 4: VISIT THE LOCATION BEFORE THE DAY. It is important that you know what locations work at where you are shooting. Take your camera or even use the camera on your phone to take pictures at different angles that you may actually use during the shoot. There doesn't even need to be anyone in the shot but if you are with someone else use them as a stand in for the test shots. Check light levels if shooting indoors incase you need more light. Also it gives you an idea if the location will be busy if its a public place.

On the day Margam let us park up right outside the castle which was great for moving equipment in and out of the car. We started the shoot at the castle on the stairs and spread roses up the stairs and had the band playing their instruments and doing a couple of songs. I did a few of the ideas that the band had first and then moved on to my ideas in that location after. I had Jo with me to assist with certain aspects of the shoot for instance holding lighting up as I knew my light stands were too short, helping with outfitting, and some organisational stuff which was way quicker with 2 people. Also being a public place you want to be as quick as you can so other guests don't have their experience disturbed. Although we had quite a crowd at points so I think they appreciated watching and listening to the music.

Tip 5: IF POSSIBLE HAVE SOMEONE TO HELP. Some of the shots would not have been possible without any help at all. Also having someone to assist does take some of the pressure off yourself, when thinking about the technical aspects of the shoot is enough. This isn't a must for all shoots but for bigger shoots like this it definitely helps and quickens things up.

Tip 6: LEAVE IT AS IF YOU WERE NEVER THERE. Clean up after you. If you want a location or venue to welcome you back for another shoot again in the future then be respectful of it. If the venue is letting you shoot there, even if you are paying to shoot there, they are not going to appreciate having their place trashed and them having to do cleaning up after you. Building relationships is really important when trying to progress.

We moved onto another location which was outside on the steps leading up to the castle. There were a number of poses and set ups here which had more of an after the after party feel to them. Whereas the inside ones had a more formal feel to them. The band wanted to have a relaxed feel to them. They had brought balloons as a prop for this location. There was nice lighting as the sun was starting to break through in the sky but is was still a bit hazy so the light was still soft. It was getting later in the afternoon so there was a nice warmth starting to come to the sunlight too. No worries about whether I would need flash so it took a lot of thinking out of it. It gave me time to focus more on giving direction to people to get the right sort of shots and also try and make it as fun as possible. One of the things that I had to be aware of was, as the steps are one of the main pathways to the castle every so often we would stop to let a passer by go past.


Make sure you know what the light is doing. When shooting outside it could start with conditions you want but then change with a cloud passing overhead. Think of the effect that lighting change will have on your photos. Also another point relevant to this tip is be mindful that if you are in a public place and if you are taking up the whole of a public footpath, you may have to stop every so often to let people past. Don't just ignore them hoping they will go away. As soon as you clock them, stop and let them go by.

After a quick change of clothes by the band we were onto the last part of the shoot which had more of an urban gritty feel to it. Sam had bought smoke grenades which Margam Park had agreed to us using. I had never used smoke grenades before but knew they didn't last long so we had to be more organised and get posing sorted before hand. But working with smoke will always be difficult because you can't get the smoke exactly where you want it and looking the way you want. We had Jo and also Sam's mum holding two of the smoke grenades to try to direct the smoke. However I knew there would be an element of Photoshop involved and blend some photos together when it came to getting the smoke in the areas that would look good. I knew this from the research I had previously done when looking up smoke shots. But as to what would actually happen when we let the smoke grenades off nobody actually knew. (P.S Safety advice, you may see people holding smoke grenades my advice is not to do it as they are not 100% safe and get very hot}

Tip 8: BE PREPARED TO BE UNPREPARED. Not every aspect of a shoot is going to go exactly the way you want or expect it go. There are going to be situations which happen which means you may have to change your plans. An opportunity may arise that you were not expecting that you may want to take advantage of. Even the best laid plans change, so if yours change or you find yourself in a situation that you can't have 100% control of don't worry. Make the best of it and as long as you have done enough research you can make the best of anything that comes your way.

The last few of the pictures were going to be a few compositional images that I had planned to do and extras to add in there. We got them done pretty quickly as the light was fading and a few clouds had rolled in blocking out the sunlight we had an hour previously. So all I needed was a fairly neutral or blank wall which I knew there was one at the side of the citrus house. Simple for them in terms of posing and all the work would happen when editing. Blending 5 individual photos against a white wall may seem easy but comes with its challenges. However there are things that you can do to make it easier for yourself when back at your computer. Don't let the camera do any thinking for you. Have auto nothing. This is just so the exposure and the white balance stay consistent throughout so that blending of the photos is a lot easier and you don't have to adjust any settings to try and match exposures because the camera has auto this and auto that. Throughout the entire shoot you don't necessarily have to do full manual mode. In fact I shoot in Aperture priority mode for nearly the whole time just for speed. There is nothing wrong in letting the camera do some of the work for you, but assess when you need to take full control.

Tip 9: CHECK YOUR SETTINGS. It may sound obvious but by knowing what settings you need for particular situations is what is going to make your day easier and your photos better. The reason this seemingly simple tip is in here is that when you are really getting into a shoot or rushing because it is the end of the day or trying to keep the momentum and vibe up, it is easy to not realise what shooting mode you are in or think about things like how white balance and exposure variances will mean more work on the computer. Even seasoned pros can make this mistake.

That was the day over with. It was a lot of fun throughout the day. That is one of the main things that you want your client to leave with at the end of your time shooting together, is that they feel they have had a good time. After all, the final product is not just the only thing that someone should be getting out of being photographed. Photography is also about the experience of the day. The memories of having fun and a good time with the photographer and with others if others are involved as well. Just like holiday photos really, when you look at photos you remember the moments they were taken and what you were feeling or the joy of being in the moment. That is what makes photography so great, it captures moments never to be repeated. But with a photo it can be remembered.

My last tip is to do with after care really. Which is keeping the client informed about how you are doing with the photos and dont keep them waiting too long for the photos.

Tip 10: KEEP THE CLIENT UP TO DATE WITH PROGRESS. After the day is all done and dusted don't have complete radio silence until the date you are ready to hand over the files. You may not be able to work on them straight away or have some other clients work that you are also working on at the same time. You may only do photography in your spare time or maybe there is more work than you anticipated. I would always about half way through the editing process contact the client and say how much had been finished and things are going great and a rough estimate of how much longer they may be. Also I give a preview of a picture that may be one of the main bunch of pictures. Just take a picture on your phone of the picture up on computer screen. It is enough to give a good idea of what to expect.

That brings me to the end of this blog. I hope you enjoyed reading and like the pictures. Hopefully some of you will have picked up some tips if you have never shot any sort of editorial or commercial work before. Most of these tips are applicable to just your normal photography as well.

That is all for now, see you again soon.

#portraiture #Learning #indoors #People #outside #photography #photoopp

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